Wisconsin's Food Manufacturing Industry Overview
BE BOLD III: Accelerate Wisconsin is focused on enhancing the ability of Wisconsin’s major industrial clusters to thrive in Wisconsin while competing and prospering even more effectively in a constantly changing world. To that end, Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. and the BE BOLD Council, working with the University of Wisconsin System, the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, identified food manufacturing and health care as the two examples of employment clusters demonstrating significant and sustainable job growth and capacity for wealth creation upon which BE BOLD III: Accelerate Wisconsin would focus. The clusters were studied sequentially starting with food manufacturing, which is covered in this document, BE BOLD III: Accelerate Wisconsin: Part 1 – Food Manufacturing. BE BOLD III: Accelerate Wisconsin: Part 2 – Heath Care is available for review here.
Food manufacturers employ more than 64,000 people in Wisconsin and generate more than $8 billion annually in gross domestic product for the state. What they do obviously works for Wisconsin and BE BOLD III determined to start its research of this important cluster by asking those who manage and advise the companies that comprise it how well Wisconsin was working for them. To that end, BE BOLD III retained Deloitte Consulting to convene and facilitate a “sounding board” session with corporate executives, professional association leaders and executives, and academic experts under contract to companies and/or professional associations to explore what was, and was not, working for Wisconsin food manufacturers.
Discussion participants cited work ethic of existing employees, access to academic expertise, quality of life and geographic location as positives, but made clear that, for them, Wisconsin’s number one attribute is its farmers. “We’re here because the farmers are here,” said one food manufacturing executive.
Workforce shortages and availability of skilled workers was, and is, food manufacturers’ number one and most immediate concern. They are also concerned about their vulnerability to damage from regulatory policies and practices. They are frustrated, for example, by what they see as “inconsistent regulation” and its potentially adverse impact on management and capital investment. “Too often, the answer you get depends on who you’re talking to,” said one business executive, explaining part of the frustration as being, “…it’s hard to make long term plans and investments when regulatory interpretations may change from year to year depending on who you’re talking to.”
They are also sensitive to their dependence upon farmers who need access to water to grow their crops. “The farmers are here because the soil is good and they have access to the water they need to grow their crops and care for their livestock. If they couldn’t access the water, they’d be gone,” one food manufacturing executive observed, adding pointedly, “…and so would we.”
Participants also shared concerns about the state’s roads and a lack of appreciation for the important role the agribusiness community plays in feeding the nation in general and the economic contribution it makes to Wisconsin in particular.
After the discussion, BE BOLD III retained Deloitte to conduct comparative analysis on all of these and other issues in Colorado, Texas and New York, three states suggested by the food manufacturers and their experts. When that research was completed, a BE BOLD III Food Manufacturers Strategic Planning Group gathered to review all the data and Deloitte’s findings. Over the course of numerous small group meetings and two plenary sessions, the BE BOLD III Food Manufacturers Strategic Planning Group developed 19 recommendations in three topic areas, including workforce and talent development; regulatory interaction and policy; and, public awareness, understanding and support.